4 June 2020 01:36 PM

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TANU KUKREJA BHAYANA | 22 MAY, 2020

The Guilt of Being Unproductive While Locked Down

Our mind and body and society is going through one of its most anxious times ever


The unexpected and uncertain outbreak of COVID-19 is something few could have imagined. Our body and mind were not prepared to go through this, sticking to schedules we had never tried earlier and are not used to still.

Life has slowed down for a while. We are restraining ourselves from going out for unnecessary things. While at home we aspire to do things we had always wanted to: reading books, learning some skills, taking care of our health, regaining body shape, taking online courses, learning a musical instrument, playing around with our children, watching movies etc.

We wish to be productive and not to waste this precious time we have got amidst this crisis. A few of our aspirations are achieved, while others stay coldly in our minds in hope of accomplishment.

This little frustration, of keeping it in the corner of your mind for the next day or the recent future, the feeling that you could not do it, or didn't try to do it, is Guilt. The guilt of being unproductive.

We have been conditioned first, not to waste time and make the best use of it as and when possible; second, to believe self-worth is directly proportional to the ‘productive work’ we do.

The Covid-19 lockdown is giving us a placebo feeling of being free, and hence our mind is telling us to accomplish the goals we had set aside for free time… and when we don't do it, bingo! Here I come, says Guilt.

For a sense of self-worth we tend to set expectations in front of us but forget that amidst this pandemic our mind is continuously occupied with thoughts of uncertainty about our recent and long term future.

All our actions are consciously and unconsciously directed towards the pandemic, for example curiosity and agitation in watching the news, consciously reminding ourselves to wash our hands, sanitise everything, etc.

This pandemic behavior is our new way of coping, or a strategy to adapt to this new situation. Like any other change we need time to get used to this new lifestyle.

Now, here comes the challenge and conflict. Our mind is stuck in the feeling that this is the time I will make best use of, completely forgetting that earlier we were never stuck so much inside feelings of getting life threatening diseases, or being isolated from family, fear of never seeing our family again, or the fear of losing someone very close, the fear of being too self centric or the fear of getting the disease itself.

We never experienced these feelings of being absolutely alone inside. We are in a dissonant stage, where we struggle between making the best of the lockdown period and going through the worst of our anxieties: of losing everything that we possess.

We are feeling guilty of the fact that we are not able to be productive ‘enough’ and will probably not get this much time for our waiting goals ever in our life again, forgetting the fact that our mind and body and society is going through one of its most anxious times ever.

We must remind ourselves that rather than keeping high expectations from ourselves, we should set our mind free to relax. We need to work on boosting our mental and physical immunity. Our mind and body has to adapt to the biggest stressor of the times. It needs to develop coping mechanisms, which will take time.

This time should be used to search out new resilience techniques and experiments, and see which of them work for us. Let’s all be calm and use this time as an incubation period to be able to grow further at the required pace.

Dr Tanu Kukreja Bhayana is assistant professor of psychology at Amity University Gurugram

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